Martha McSally and Cory Gardner share tough reelection races in 2020 in battleground states. But the two Republican senators are taking completely different approaches to the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
McSally (R-Ariz.) is predicting political doom for Democrats, deeming it a “kamikaze mission” that will help Republicans across the board. Gardner is keeping his opinion as close to the vest as possible.
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“Literally they are on a path to re-elect the president, keep the Senate majority [Republican] and possibly flip the House. It’s a total distraction,” McSally said in an interview of the House Democrats’ path. “For the people I represent, this is not what they’re talking about.”
Gardner said the president’s conversations with the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden and his family as well as a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s conversations with a world leader are a “serious issue.” Asked if he still supported Trump’s reelection, Gardner replied: “Let’s find out what’s happening. Let’s get to the bottom of this.”
“I’m not going to get in front of the facts that I simply don’t have right now,” he added.
If House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry turns into an attempt to remove the president, Gardner and McSally will be two of the most closely watched votes. And for now no one on the Senate Republican side is even endorsing an inquiry, much less suggesting they might vote to convict the president.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) spoke to the 53-member caucus on Tuesday afternoon at lunch, senators said. He “suggested we get the facts before people start jumping to conclusions,” recalled Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Shortly after Republicans were in harmony, saying they needed more information about the Trump call with the Ukrainian president and the whistleblower to say whether it’s troubling that Trump reportedly pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig into Biden and his son, Hunter, in order to receive U.S. aid. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
“It would be much more helpful if we can just get the full and honest story out there. There’s a lot of speculation about what was really said. So, hard to say until we see what’s real,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), an occasional Trump critic.
“It’s early to be having those conversations. There’s so much which we don’t know,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) of impeachment.
That will change soon. On, Wednesday Trump will release his transcript of the call with the Ukrainian president. On Thursday, the House and Senate Intelligence committees will both hear from intelligence officials about the whistleblower case.
Republicans Senators said there was no real concern exhibited in their party lunch on Tuesday about a possible impeachment trial in the chamber. But Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is among the most popular members among Republicans, said he’d sensed a shift among his colleagues.
“I have not heard a peep [from Republicans]. They’re being unusually circumspect, changing the subject, just not willing to talk about it,” Coons said.
Tuesday’s rapid shift toward impeachment in the House is just the opening gun in what’s going to turn into a marathon march for Senate Republicans, who are the president’s firewall in any attempt at removal. At least 20 Senate Republicans would have to join with all 47 Senate Democratic Caucus members to remove the president, which now appears an impossibly high number.
“There will be a huge backlash. And this will be just seen as the next step after Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the Russian investigation,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another incumbent Republican. “I’m kind of scratching my head why all of a sudden the House’s hair is on fire.”
“I see nothing so far. Impeachment is a political decision. And their base … they hate the president and they’re searching for a reason to impeach him,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), another incumbent. “It’s a different question if there’s anything to convict him.”
Senate leaders said that Democrats face all the risk, minimizing the pivotal role that Senate Republicans may play in the coming months as potential jurors in Trump’s Senate trial.
“This path, which we discovered 20 years ago when I was in the House, it’s not always smooth sailing. And sometimes the things you do to satisfy your base don’t help you with the majority of the American people,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).
For Cornyn and Cassidy, the impeachment question is relatively easy: Their states are conservative and there’s no path to victory by breaking with the president. McSally’s state is trending Democratic but still leans red.
Yet impeachment is still being celebrated in all corners of the party, reflecting the complex decisions ahead for the GOP.
And no one has a more difficult political calculus than Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has not endorsed Trump’s reelection but supported Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year. And she’s been trying to pass firearms legislation and prescription drug reforms in an already volatile environment.
“I don’t know what evidence they’re using at this point,” Collins said of the House’s impeachment push. “I still hold hope out that we can legislate … but this could affect everything.”
Indeed, the one shared lament on Tuesday among Senate Republicans is that their attempts at legislating were increasingly likely to flail on guns, prescription drugs and potentially the new North American trade agreement. It was also slowly sinking in that their time in Congress during the first term of Donald Trump was going to be consumed by impeachment.
“It probably will eat up a lot of energy in the room to talk about other things that I think the public is interested in our addressing,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “It all eats up time and energy.”